Sundae, Korean blood sausage.
There is a quiet beauty to not travelling alone. An experience shared is somehow all the more real, easier to handle and more memorable than a solo, lonely episode. There are also practical benefits, someone else to pick up the slack and make decisions, read the map and take the first step into the scary unknown. There is an arm to grab to help you keep your balance on the treacherous black ice that lines Korean streets this freezing winter. What’s more, Alex knows some – extremely limited, granted – Korean, just enough to order food, sometimes. Hell, he’s doing (and eating) better than me, as English menu’s can be difficult to come by in my neck of the woods.
But our visit to Kwangjang market didn’t involve menu’s, just getting lost, walking into an eerily deserted market and discovering warm delicious heaven in the frozen heart of Seoul.
Pajeon Jeon display (thanks Simon!)
Kwangjang market (광장시장) is the oldest traditional market in Seoul. Six days a week it is packed with shoppers buying all manner of goods, but we visit on a Sunday when only the restaurants and pojangmacha are open. The wide market alleys bustle with diners perusing stalls and trying to keep warm. Many stalls here sell the same dishes: red bean porridge (patjuk 팟죽), Korean sushi (gimbap ), savoury pancakes (buchimgae) and boiled, skewered fish cake (eomuk 어묵). Kwangjang market is famous for bindaetteok (빈대떡) a thick, onion filled pancake with a batter made from freshly ground mung beans. Crisp and greasy, this is perfect hangover food, if only you can brave the cold.
After selecting a likely looking stall, packed with diners but with seats spare and all the food I want to try, Alex works his Korean language magic (oh, and pointing and gestures helped too). The enormous plate of sundae (순대) (picture at top) is almost too much blood sausage to eat, or would be if it weren’t so light and porcine, and stuffed with rice vermicelli noodles.
Worker preparing fish cakes in front of tteokbokki.
The sun is setting and an arctic wind blows in. The heated bench seats certainly don’t help as much as the tteokbokki (떡볶이) I’m shovelling down. These chewy rice cakes drenched in spicy red sauce are like little stodgy fingers of warmth, in a totally non-dirty way. This popular street food is done to death on the drunken late night streets of Seoul, but this version (which I enjoyed sober) is the best I’ve tasted.
Pig’s heads and trotters, softened by hours of cooking, lay in piles on benches glistening enticingly. With the help of a friendly dining neighbour, our final plate plastic-bagged-wrapped-plate is pork tongue. I was expecting a hit of gelatinous trotter to round out the meal, but miscommunication brings these slices of delicious tongue to remind me why I love pork. Tender and porcine, I’m stuffed but surely just one more slice won’t hurt?
Kwangjang market on a Sunday is destination dining at it’s best. The place is bursting with food (and only food), traditional, strange, delicious, interesting, comforting and confronting. Everyone here is prowling for a feed and these strange white people stamping their feet and blowing on their hands are the only distraction. Sometimes it’s nice to not be the only person being stared at.
More photos on flickr.
Sundae, ttoekbokki and pork tongue cost around 12,000 Korean Won (~$10AU).